Generally I’m not much of a TAG YOU’RE IT person — the whole concept of “tag” stressed me out a lot as a kid. It took a lot of things I couldn’t really do and forced me to perform them all at one time — running, hitting people, strategizing, interacting with my peers on a basic social level. I didn’t even like having to run after people to tag them out during my brief stint as a second baseman in 4th grade (it only took my coach a few games to figure that out, and then I was sentenced to right field).
However, Caroline of Caroline in the City has tagged me in a post she wrote about her travel inspirations, meaning she wants to hear what I have to say on the subject. Since I can participate in this form of tag while simultaneously drinking wine on my couch and not having to run around in anyone’s backyard, I’m game.
Really, though, the only image that came to mind when I thought about what inspires me to travel was this:
Being badass. If I could be as badass doing anything as Thelma and Louise were during their awesome road trip (you call it fleeing a crime scene, I call it an awesome road trip), all of my dreams would be fulfilled.
The way I described my childhood a few sentences ago might have alerted you to something — I have never really been badass in any context. I had my nose pierced for about 2 years, which was a nice attempt, and I do have a tattoo (although the word “laugh” written in my own handwriting across my lower abdomen doesn’t really conjure up any images of danger or mystery). And one time I sort of got mugged?
I’m not really any more badass when I’m traveling than I am in real life*, but when I’m traveling it’s much easier to trick myself into believing that I am badass. When I am traveling alone and I manage to get myself to a new country, find the bus to my hostel, get myself a decent meal, locate everything I want to see in that country and then actually get myself there, take a few pictures, and make it home in one piece, I think to myself, “Ok, you’re impressive.” Things like feeding yourself and making sure you get to your bed at the end of the night are basic concepts that most of us have mastered long before we’re even living on our own, but sometimes, let’s be honest, they just take so much effort. When you can not only perform these tasks by yourself, but perform them well (i.e. using the hostel kitchen to cook yourself an actual meal rather than one of the packs of Ramen you brought from home, which is just cheating), and perform them well in a country where you can’t understand what anyone is saying to you, and when you’ve just spent the entire day getting lost in a new place and you’re so tired you can barely stand, let alone operate a European stove — when you can do that, I think you deserve to be called a badass.
On top of that, weird things happen when you’re traveling. Weird things happen in real life*, too, but they don’t have the glamour of traveling or the unfamiliar setting to back them up. When they happen in real life, these things are just funny stories to tell over dinner or manipulate into a really good Facebook status. When weird things happen during your travels, they are suddenly adventure stories. When you play them back in your head for years and years to come, you’ve assigned starring roles: you as the protagonist, possibly a cute foreign guy as the love interest, possibly a gold-toothed French man as the bad guy (the characters can vary depending on the genre of your particular adventure. Liam Neeson usually stars in all of mine.). There’s usually a soundtrack you’ve chosen. You’ve carefully selected each adjective and analyzed the plot structure.
One time I got robbed in France (money stolen from my makeup bag so no real struggle or badass triumph was involved, just a lot of frantic sobbing and way less souvenirs). I’ve been to a massive rave on a French beach, I stayed on a boat along the coast of Gibraltar, I took a few writing lessons from a BBC journalist in Scotland, I went to the self-proclaimed “Big Lebowski Bar” in Dresden, I participated in a home swap with a French family from Normandy (they got Boyf’s house, we got their massive chateau in the middle of the gorgeous French countryside, complete with a horse ranch, silo for brewing cider, and an impressive fossil display in the living room), I accidentally took pictures of Sandra Cho in Saint Tropez when Grey’s Anatomy was still respected, and I got to see the Woman of Willendorf in person not once, but TWICE IN MY LIFETIME (possibly the only legitimately badass thing on this list).
None of that is particularly impressive in the grand scheme of things — I have never gone sky-diving, I have never been in a ship wreck, I have never gotten seriously injured and made a triumphant recovery in a foreign hospital, I’ve never done anything particularly influential along the lines of aiding humanity in any way, and I know that. I’m working up to it. Still, each of those little stories makes me feel good about myself. I am tickled to the point of using the word “tickled” when I announce I’m about to go off traveling alone for a certain period of time and the first thing someone asks me is, “Aren’t you scared?” This makes me believe that I am doing something monumentally impressive and dangerous, when really it’s just slightly impressive when compared to most other things I do and dangerous in the sense that I am always on the brink of getting irreversibly lost.
I know that none of us really had much faith in my potential for badassery when we saw what I did with my softball career all those years ago. The most I had going for me at that point (aside from my ability to look adorable in right field) was the fact that the other teams’ pitchers always accidentally hit me with the ball, which always allowed me to take a base, which made me a very valuable lead hitter. I sort of wish I could go back to right field, hand my nine-year-old self some ice for whatever part of her body the pitch had hit that time, and tell her that she probably won’t ever accomplish the level of badassery she dreams about during the really slow innings, but that she will get to travel to dozens of really cool places all by herself when she grows up — and that’ll at least get her closer.
*I did not mean to refer to those in-between phases of my travels that I spend at home as “real life” in this post…twice. Will need to psychoanalyze this in a future post, probably.